For a team that has been as dominant in the lightweight women's rowing as Stanford University has been through the past several years, having a season that included two dual losses qualified as a challenging year.
That didn't mean that the Cardinal women did not believe in themselves or the work they had put into the season, through the middle of the winter training, and into the IRA Championship on Mercer Lake Saturday and Sunday in West, Windsor, New Jersey.
Stanford went to the line for the Sunday morning final with the confidence they had built through with the race for lanes win Saturday morning and after battling with Boston University of the start, pushed ahead in the second quarter of the piece and held on to win the school's fourth consecutive women's lightweight eight national championship.
"It's been a really tough year," said coach Kate Bertko. "I think we have great competition on the lightweight side and we have had some ups and downs. But I've been really impressed with the team, the women, how they responded to the ups and downs," she said.
"They keep their chins up, and they keep going. We saw that today."
Stanford on the podium
A big part of being able to keep their "chins up" has to do with the legacy that has been built into the program. Winning four consecutive national championship takes leadership that is passed down from team to team.
One senior from last year's team left one particular quote behind, said sophomore Isabella Garcia-Camargo: "If you are worried about the race when you are sitting on the line, then you haven't pulled hard enough in winter training."
That kind of inspiration helped carry the Stanford lights through a season that saw them lose to BU on the Charles River every early in the year, and then lose again in a dual with Cal later in the spring.
"Everyone is really fast in this league," said freshman Claire Smythe. "And the season was a great opportunity for us to grow. And, going to the line today, we knew we were just going to come together as a boat.
"We're really proud of all the work we've done this year, and we're really thankful that our crews have pushed us to become better versions of ourselves. This year, this race, I think that everyone put down everything on the line," Smythe said.
"In the middle, we were just pulling for each other. We were just pulling to show each other what we worked for all year. We definitely just trust in each other, trust in the work that we've done, and trust in the process. Trusting our coach, and trusting that everything that we've done up to this point is going to be worth it."
And just in case, the team had a secret lucky charm, in the form of Tinkerbell, Brigitte Schmittlein's little Welsh Corgi who was at the regatta to bring that extra little bit of help. Not to be left out of the medal ceremony, Bertko brought the dog to the podium, to the delight of the team and the dog.
Tinkerbell getting a team belly rub